How Did The Transcontinental Railroad Affect Western Expansion In The United States?

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA+, January 1995

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Thesis: The transcontinental railroad greatly increased Westward

expansion in the United States of America during the latter half

of the nineteenth century.

The history of the United States has been influenced by

England in many ways. In the second half of the 1800's, the

railroad, which was invented in England, had a major effect on

Western expansion in the United States.

'Railroads were born in England, a country with dense

populations, short distances between cities, and large

financial resources. In America there were different

circumstances, a sparse population in a huge country, large

stretches between cities, and only the smallest amounts of

money.' ('Railroad' 85)

The first American railroads started in the 1830's from the

Atlantic ports of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia,

Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah (Douglas 23). Within twenty

years, four rail lines had crossed the Alleghenies to reach their

goal on `Western Waters' of the Great Lakes or the tributaries of

the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, other lines had started West of the

Appalachian mountains, and by the mid-1850's Chicago, St. Louis,

and Memphis were connected to the East. Still other lines were

stretching Westward, beyond the Mississippi. An international

route connected New England and Montreal and another one crossed

Southern Ontario between Niagara, New York, and the Detroit


During the 1850's, North and South routes were developed

both East and West of the Alleghenies. It was not until after

the Civil War, however, that a permanent railroad bridge was

constructed across the Ohio River. After the Civil War, the pace

of railroad building increased. The Pacific railroads, the Union

Pacific building from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific

building from Sacramento, California, had started to build a

transcontinental railroad during the war to help promote national

unity. They were joined at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869,